UVU Professor Survives Nepal Earthquake

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Missy Jensen | Staff Writer | @missyjensen19 |

Photo by Julie Ostler | Assistant Photo Editor | @jules1lo


On April 25, a devastating 7.8 earthquake killed 8,800 people and injured 23,000 others in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Utah Valley University Chemistry professor Fern Caka, was in the middle of it and survived to tell her story.

Caka has been at UVU for the past 15 years, first as an adjunct professor for three years and then as a lab manager. Later, she was promoted as a tenure track faculty member and is currently the Chemistry Department Chair. Caka received a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from Brigham Young University. Her undergraduate research focused on air pollution in National Parks, which combined her love of science and the outdoors.

8  our group 3 Lodge in Machermo just after earthquake

Photos courtesy of Fern Caka

Caka traveled to Nepal on April 16 to do a study on the indoor air quality. The goal was to assess Nepali homes for exposure to fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide during cooking. With yak dung being the primary fuel source used in Nepal, Caka was researching the pollutants it caused.

Her son, John; daughter-in-law, Nawang; and grandson, 20-month-old Jonas, accompanied Caka—eager to visit Nawang’s family in her native Nepal.

It took the Caka’s four days to hike to Kumju, Nawang’s native village. They then traveled further to another village called Phortse to stay at a hunting lodge with Nawang’s extended family.

While in Phortse, Caka and her son decided to go on a five-day hike to Gokyo Ri village to see the most spectacular views in the Everest Region. However, they never made it.

During the middle of the second day of the hike, the Caka’s set out with two European women and a porter, who would lead the group.   Conditions were cold, wet, muddy, and dangerous.

“I remember thinking “I hope I don’t slip because it’s a long fall to the bottom of the river.” Fern recalls.

Caka remembers noticing the sky seemed to be moving. At first she thought it was because she was dizzy, due to the high altitude. Suddenly, Caka fell to the ground and tried over and over to stand up, but was unable to, due to the violently shaking ground beneath her.

Boulders and debris fell around her as they crashed into the river hundreds of feet below the group. Caka thought the group was in a landslide.

When the group finally reached the village, they were shocked to see it was in ruins. It was then they learned that the landslide was actually an earthquake. Caka and her group were determined to reunite with Nawang and Jonas and hiked back to Phortse.

Five hours later, John and Caka returned to Phortse to find Nawang and Jonas were miraculously unharmed and safe.

“It was like a glimpse of heaven,” said Caka. “…when I walked into the village and saw my grandson and my daughter-in-law.”

After a three day hike back to Katmandu, Caka and her family left the distressed villages of Nepal and returned to the United States safely.

Several of Nepal’s cities were left in ruins with many people needing money and supplies in order to rebuild. If you would like to help this nation in anguist, Nawang has set up a Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.com/khumjungnepalEQR as andy donations will help.